It’s the films you least expect that tend to generate the very best videogames. Few who walked out of a screening of The Chronicles Of Riddick would have laid down much cash that a half decent game would come of it, and yet Escape From Butcher Bay, the first Riddick videogame, was quite brilliant. Conversely, the real big movies tend to inspire a conveyer belt of the predictable at best, and the turgid at worst (we’ll spare this summer’s surprising Wolverine game from that generalisation).
The Terminator franchise has never really done that well in the world of home videogames (although not too badly in the arcades), and that’s something of a mystery. There are certainly ingredients in the movie franchise that surely could be mixed for a pulsating action title, but so safe and risk-free have been the end results to date, that the search for a great Terminator game goes on.
Terminator: Salvation sadly does little to aid the search for an exception. That said, in the early parts, you do, just for a few moments, suspect you might be on to something special. Brad Fiedel’s score kicks in, the visuals – albeit reminiscent of many other first and third person shoot ‘em ups – are fine, and when you first meet a T-600, it’s genuinely exciting. Heck, it’s a Terminator game, after all.
But it doesn’t take long for the fun to dilute. The developers are, clearly, very much in love with the Gears Of War games, and it’s as if the Terminator: Salvation game is their own little mod for them. Much of the game’s action involves you taking cover, sliding to further positions of cover after that, and then flanking enemies to isolate weak spots to shoot at. Viewed from the third person, it’s all perfectly straightforward and simple to control, but then chances are you’ll have seen it all before anyway, just in slightly different clothes.
The feeling of familiarity extends to the level designs, which feel like modified templates, rather than anything innovative or interesting. For Terminator: Salvation is a game of precious few surprises, generally requiring you to go from one part of a map to the next, to unleash whatever sequence has been prepared for you. Rug pulls are not in abundance.
Now granted, it can be quite exciting too at first, albeit in a shallow way. The targeting and shooting is easily executed, and we’re not going to pass up the chance to enjoy a showy sequence of shooting shit out of the sky. What’s more, we couldn’t help but get more interested when recognisable facets of the franchise came into the game.
Yet there’s not much to many of them, and the action too often comes down to picking the right weapon for the right machine (and, incredibly, this is a future where guns still manage to overheat!). Much of the game is then a case of rinse and repeat, where you’re asked to do the same stuff over and over, just in different places on the map. It’s got ‘routine’ stamped right the way through it.
Contrast it with Butcher Bay, a title that took a film series for inspiration, and yet expanded on it both logically and with real quality. Here though, it feels every inch the tie-in movie game that’s got a deadline to hit, and that’s a real pity.
It’s not irredeemable, and it’s hard not to get some entertainment out of it. Try as it might, it’s never dull, but it rarely punches anywhere near genuine excitement either. And while it’s a damn sight better than Terminator 2 on the Commodore Amiga – anyone else remember that? – the quest for a strong Terminator videogame continues. Because much though Terminator: Salvation wants to be like Gears Of War, the brutal truth is it’s lagging some way behind.